SDC Project Implemented by Helvetas and MDA

Partnerships: The Foundation of Market Systems Development

Unveiling the Art of Partnership Brokering

Market systems development is an approach which is founded on facilitating change through partnerships. However, little is written about the techniques of partnership brokering that are used in projects, what works and what is considered to be good practice. This report explores the practical experience of one project in Kosovo – Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) and introduces several major sources of good practice that could be useful to MSD practitioners that want to improve their partnership brokering skills.

In February 2023, EYE staff considered their experience over ten years of working with partners (businesses, government and civil society). The intention was to identify the common principles and challenges of partnerships, and to review and better understand established models of good practice of partnership brokering. How can EYE improve the way it uses partnerships to achieve the project’s purpose and objective? This report summarises the discussion and highlights areas for improvement that may be relevant for other MSD projects.

EYE is a project funded by SDC and implemented by a consortium of Helvetas and MDA. The overall goal of EYE phase III is to increase the employability of young women and men in Kosovo. It will be achieved in a socially inclusive and sustainable way through systemic interventions in two interrelated areas: (1) Young women and men in Kosovo increase their employability by enhanced market demanded skills through improved access to training through industry-led training providers and non-formal training institutions (2) Young women and men can make better-informed career choices due to a more demand-driven career guidance system, while at the same time benefitting from a more efficient labour market information system. 

Approach to the Group Discussion

The discussion took ninety minutes. Ten staff met as a single group for a brief introduction by the facilitator to focus their minds on ‘what is a partnership’. This was followed by a retrospective discussion in three small groups of the principles and challenges of partnerships experienced by EYE. After a short coffee break, the group reassembled and the facilitator outlined an example of good practice of partnership brokering from the Partnership Brokering Association, after which the three small groups shared the key points of their discussion (see annex for details). Finally, as one large group, there was a short period of reflective discussion comparing EYE’s experience with the established good practice.

EYE’s Experience of Partnership: Principles and Challenges

Helvetas arranged some training and coaching for EYE staff on facilitation and partnerships drawing on its quality criteria for partnerships, a partnership toolbox and its overall approach, policy and guidelines.  EYE staff have also attended external training on facilitation and partnerships as part of MSD training. There has also been training on the administration of partnerships, e.g. how to manage the delivery and financial risks of partnerships. And, there has been a lot of ‘learning by doing’.

EYE has plenty of experience of a wide range of partnerships over the last ten years during three phases of the project. For the details of the discussion, please see the annex. The group discussion highlighted some principles of partnership:

  1. Continuous monitoring, reflection, and learning: Regularly assessing and reflecting on the partnership's progress and experiences to gain insights and improve future collaborations.
  2. Trust and systemic changes: Building trust between partners and advocating for systemic changes that benefit the entire industry, not just one partner.
  3. Sustainability and common goals: Promoting sustainability and aligning partners around a shared goal or objective.
  4. Facilitation, risk sharing, and co-financing: Providing facilitation support, sharing risks and benefits, and establishing a long-term partnership based on results, ownership, and co-financing.

The group also highlighted some challenges of partnership: 

  1. Pandemic situation and force majeure: Consideration of unpredictable events like the pandemic and other uncontrollable circumstances.
  2. High risk and ambition: Acknowledging the uncertainty and potential challenges associated with ambitious goals.
  3. Accountability and emotional involvement: Balancing accountability with fair treatment and emotional considerations.
  4. Partner dynamics and limited number: Managing relationships with partners, especially when there are limited options.
  5. Challenges in communication and management: Overcoming issues of communication, commitment, and effective partnership management to ensure successful planning and delivery.

The following section introduces some sources of expert advice on partnership brokering.

Good Practice of Partnership Brokering

Partnership brokering is a facilitative process that aims to create and nurture effective partnerships between different individuals, organizations, or sectors. A partnership broker acts as a neutral intermediary who helps bring together diverse stakeholders, encourages collaboration, and supports the development and management of partnerships.

The role of a partnership broker typically involves several key activities:

1. Identifying potential partners: The broker identifies individuals, organizations, or sectors that could form mutually beneficial partnerships based on their respective goals, expertise, and resources.

2. Facilitating dialogue and negotiation: The broker facilitates initial conversations, meetings, and negotiations between potential partners. They help establish common ground, clarify objectives, and facilitate agreement on shared values, roles, and responsibilities.

3. Building trust and relationships: The broker works to establish trust among partners by fostering open communication, addressing concerns, and promoting transparency. They help build positive working relationships, respect different perspectives, and foster a culture of collaboration.

4. Supporting partnership design: The broker assists partners in defining the purpose, structure, and governance of the partnership. They help develop shared goals, strategies, and action plans, ensuring that the partnership is aligned with the needs and interests of all involved parties.

5. Facilitating capacity development: The broker supports partners in identifying and addressing capacity gaps, providing access to training, resources, and expertise to strengthen their ability to contribute effectively to the partnership.

6. Managing conflicts and challenges: The broker assists in managing conflicts and challenges that may arise during the partnership. They facilitate dialogue, encourage problem-solving, and help partners find mutually acceptable solutions.

7. Monitoring and evaluation: The broker assists in monitoring the progress of the partnership, evaluating its impact, and providing feedback to partners. They help ensure accountability, adapt strategies as needed, and promote learning and continuous improvement.

Overall, partnership brokering aims to enable effective collaboration, promote shared ownership, and maximize the collective impact of partnerships by fostering trust, mutual understanding, and effective communication among stakeholders.

If you want to learn more about how to broker partnerships, there are several public sources of information on good practice, with some overlap and duplication:


PRISMA is an example of an MSD project that has developed detailed guidance for intervention managers on brokering partnerships. 

Elevating Partnership Dynamics in MSD

Clearly, partnerships are at the root of an MSD project whether in a pilot or whilst stimulating crowding-in. This report shows that EYE, like other projects, has acquired some understanding of effective partnership brokering, but this knowledge has taken many years and has come through the long journey of experience rather than through formal training.

Like many projects, EYE trains its staff as part of project administration on how to broker partnerships, and there are guidelines on partnerships. However, most formal attention in EYE was placed on the administration of the partnership (documents, risk, delivery, results, payments) rather than on the way the partnership is created, grows, learns, develops and succeeds. Informally, some intervention managers take initiatives to broker partnerships because they see that this part of their role as a facilitator and they realise that partnerships enable and sustain systemic change. But, little formal guidance is provided on how to broker partnerships. This is a common situation in many MSD projects.

Also, projects often focus more on the partnership between the project and the partner, than between the partner and its partners. For example, between the project and a manufacturing business that establishes a training service to solve its need for more skilled workers, than between that business and its owners, potential trainees, social marketing consultancies that help promote the course and the industry association that is interested to fix the skills gap in the industry. The wider space of partnerships is full of potential for stimulating systemic change.

MSD project leaders and intervention managers are encouraged to use the resources referenced above to improve their partnership practice. They are also encouraged to make full use of existing MSD techniques that support partnership brokering, such as the AAER model. Contractors are encouraged to organize specific training on partnership brokering for project staff. This will contribute to the effectiveness of the projects, particularly to the depth, scale, local ownership and durability of systemic change.

Annex: Summary of discussion on principles and challenges of partnerships in EYE project



  • Continuous monitoring and reflection
  • Learn lessons
  • ‘Sebep’ {trad marriage broker}
  • Trust
  • Systemic changes that serve the whole industry not just the partner
  • Sustainability
  • Common goal
  • Ideas
  • Persistence
  • Facilitation
  • Risk sharing
  • Common risk and benefit
  • Long-term partnership based on results
  • Ownership and co-finance
  • Trust mindset – build on arguments
  • Facilitator being a role model of commitment
  • Networking to support learning from each other
  • Due-diligence checklist
  • Having a sustainable business model at the core of the partner’s vision
  • Sharing costs of the partnership
  • Facilitator supporting with budget
  • Pandemic situation
  • Force majeure
  • Unknown future (high risk)
  • High ambition
  • Too much accountability
  • Other donors partnering with our partners
  • Emotional involvement to fair treatment
  • Limited number of partners
  • Changes in labour market trends and economic growth
  • Slow decision-making process in public sector
  • Complicated financial transactions
  • Dependent on donor resources
  • Centralised financial format for VET schools
  • Communication with the partner
  • Commitment
  • Partnership management
  • Contract agreement
  • Bad management > bad communication > challenge in planning and delivery of partnership

EYE takes a systems approach to problem understanding and an adaptive approach to management.

see more

Latest VET Campaign in Kosovo

see more

Read the Latest Publications of
EYE Project

see more

We would like to meet you in person or via the contact form

see more